Urbs in agri? Farming as a solution to the problem of vacant land

July 15, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

Detroit, our troubled neighbor to east, is starting the world’s largest urban farm–a 250 to 280-acre behemoth that organizers say will soon grow tomatoes, apples, lettuce and even trees. The city will demolish vacant houses to do it, part of an effort to raze a staggering 10,000 vacant houses to shrink a city that lost more than a million people since its population peak of 1.9 million. Detroit stock broker John Hantz is behind the venture and put in $30 million to make it happen. And judging from the renderings, the enterprise has the trappings of a real business venture:

The Motor City has hatched assorted comeback plans for the last 30 years. But this one might be the most inspired, if it proves workable. Could Chicago do something like this? There are urban farms in Chicago, but not at this scale. I see large and scarcely populated areas on the Far South Side and south suburbia could be turned into places where food could be grown locally. A large for-profit enterprise like the one Hantz seeks to do in Detroit could bring the first real industry (which means new jobs) many of these areas have been in generations.

Hantz estimates that he will start with 250 to 280 acres by spring 2011.